China’s Maritime Militia: The Fish Story

In the Hutong
Spongebob is not Kosher
1752 hrs.

Appropos of the recently cooled dispute over Japan’s imprisonment of a Chinese fishing boat captain, The New York Times‘ Edward Wong wrote a thought-provoking piece laying out how the People’s Liberation Army may be extending the doctrine of “People’s War” into the maritime domain.

As for relying on fishermen, military exercises off the coast of Fujian Province and comments by Chinese officials show that the Chinese Navy has been trying to “more effectively organize China’s maritime militia, based on various fishing fleets,” Mr. Cole said. “The maritime militia in 2010 is quite active.”

This is no surprise – China’s naval forces have been (by comparison, anyway) neglected in China’s effort to upgrade the PLA (which includes China’s Navy.) The logical interim step would be to deputize the fishing fleet to serve as an extension of the fleet until the Navy can put more hulls in the water.

But this also means that, outside of the Diaoyutai dispute, there are implications for the territorial waters of countries well beyond East Asia. Chinese fishing vessels, their home waters either overcrowded with competition or plundered to exhaustion, will venture even further from China’s shores to harvest the bounty available in the waters of other nations.

Many of these craft will be caught in violation of international maritime law, thus increasing the likelihood of an international event, even an unintentional one. In the event that a fishing vessel is actively operating as a Chinese government auxiliary, other nations may find themselves bitten by the same Chinese nationalism the Japanese experienced in September.